10 Things to Consider When Buying a Tiny Car

January 30, 2014

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Swapping your car for a smaller vehicle can be a practical option, especially for those who live in urban areas. They’re great for finding easy parking, running errands, and getting around town. But before you trade your Civic for a Scion, there are a few things to consider. Tiny cars, also known as subcompact cars and minicars, are smaller than compact models and can be broken down into several segments. We’re going to focus on minicars (considered an A-segment car), which include, among others, the popular Smart Fortwo and the Chevrolet Spark; typically tiny cars in comparison to others.

While convenient, these minicars are not your standard vehicle. Here is a list of 10 things to keep in mind before you buy a tiny car.

1. Fuel Efficiency

I know what you’re thinking: downsized car equals downsized gas bill. It’s true that minicars will typically get you farther for less. The Smart ForTwo averages 15 kilometres per litre, compared to the Honda Civic, which averages 14 kilometres per litre. However, many of these minicars are also experimenting with hybrid and electric models, significantly decreasing the cost of operating a tiny car further. The Smart ForTwo Electric Drive Coupe, for example, averages 45.55 kilometres per litre when running off electricity. Natural Resources of Canada recognized it as the most fuel-efficient two-seater vehicle of 2013.

2. Commuting

Where you live and where you’ll go is a key component to consider when it comes to making that final decision to buy a smaller vehicle. Subcompact cars are great for running errands, picking up groceries, and commuting to work. They perform very well in these situations and are best suited for this environment.

3. Highways

However, if you’re someone who takes the highway often then you might want to consider another vehicle. Although you’ll get decent fuel economy driving on the highways, the size of a subcompact car makes it difficult for other drivers—especially those in larger vehicles or transport trucks—to see your car, which leads us to our next point:

4. Safety

Minicars consistently under perform in crash tests especially when it comes to frontal crash tests. The small size and minimal overlap does little to protect the driver. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently announced its findings after testing 11 minicars. Only one out of the 11, the Chevrolet Spark, earned an acceptable rating, Forbes reports. All of the cars were graded on their overall performance, as well as measured for such things as structure, restraints, and dummy injury.

“Small, lightweight vehicles have an inherent safety disadvantage,” said Joe Nolan, the institute’s senior vice president for vehicle research, in the article. “Neither the Spark nor the other minicars in the test group offer front crash prevention, an increasingly common safety feature that can prevent or mitigate some kinds of frontal crashes.”

5. Agility

However, argues Consumer Reports, “many small cars have an advantage in avoiding an accident.” Though they don’t elaborate, this is likely because in theory a smaller car might be easier to maneuver. Small cars are generally considered to be quite nimble and light.1

6. Cost

Tiny cars range in price from $13,000 for more basic models to $35,000 for high-performance models. There are plenty of affordable options available for less than $20,000 making them, on average, more affordable than a standard vehicle. The average cost of a new car in Canada was $26,755 in 2012, according to DesRosiers Automotive Consultants analysis of Statistics Canada data, the Globe and Mail reports.

7. Cargo

If you need a car to haul around bulky sports equipment then you’re going to want to find one with efficient cargo space. Even having to make frequent trips to the airport for work means you need enough space for your luggage. Most tiny cars have enough room in them for a gym bag, suitcases and groceries. Look for cars that have seats that fold down to allow for additional storage space. Many manufacturers now also offer models equipped with four seats—giving you not only more cargo room, but also room for more people.

8. Passengers

Speaking of, manufacturers recognize the demand for a tiny, efficient car that suits everyday needs, and have begun to roll out models that have more space. The 2014 FIAT 500, for example, has several four-seat models available, while Scion iQ can also squeeze four in there. Smart Car is making a TwoFour for the European market, but they do not have plans to launch it in the North American market at this time.

9. Parking

The golden ticket of the tiny car—the ability to park anywhere! Parking these little guys is a breeze, which is one of the main reasons they appeal to city drivers. Many minicars are only eight to 10 feet long, so you can wedge into those tiny, tight spots no one else can. And let’s face it: if you’re a bad parker then this is just another bonus for you. When Automobile magazine rated the best cars for people who can’t park, tiny cars got the spot.

10. Entertainment

Don’t let its size fool you; a tiny car can be packed with big features. The FIAT 500, for example, comes equipped with a Beats Audio system. These newer models come with more advanced technologies as manufactures continue to update and accessorize tiny cars. Like all vehicles, remember you have the ability to update features to include a more premium sound and entertainment experience. Check out different models and see what features speak to you.

1Due to the variance in sizes and the compactness of tiny cars, it is important to thoroughly review the safety features of each make and compare them before purchasing.